Bashing China Won't Bring the Jobs Back

Imagine if China's politicians were hell bent on browbeating Ben Bernanke. Do you think any amount of speechifying would get the Fed to move a single centimeter on monetary policy? Of course not. The Fed acts according to what it sees is in America's best interests.

So from a diplomatic standpoint, Matt Miller's recent op-ed, "Who will get tough on China?" in the Washington Post is a non-starter. All the chest thumping we can muster won't budge the Chinese to move on what they consider to be in China's best interests -- their currency exchange rate.

Yet Miller's supporting points make even less sense from an economic point of view. He advocates punitive tariffs on Chinese imports to goad China into letting their currency appreciate. What Miller fails to understand is that many of the goods we import from China contain inputs made here in the USA.

Chances are, your iPhone's glass is made by a Corning plant in Kentucky. Its semiconductors are made in Austin, Texas. The cotton in your Chinese-made khakis comes from American farms. And on and on.

China's reputation as the world's factory floor is undeserved. China is the world's assembler. It is a giant vacuum, sucking inputs from America, Germany, South Korea and Japan, assembling them, then reselling the final goods to the rest of the world. Jacking up tariffs on Chinese imports would cripple American exporters -- crushing the one strong growth sector of our economy and costing America even more jobs.

How much does the U.S. export to China? Since 2001, U.S. exports to China have increased 542% and are now worth $104 billion. China is America's third largest export market, only behind Canada and Mexico, our immediate neighbors.

If you drill down to the state and congressional district level, you will see how much of your state's exports to China are growing compared with the rest of the world. How 94% of all congressional districts have seen triple digit export growth to China between 2000 and 2010. And how those exports are creating jobs across America in markets as varied as agriculture to automotive and pharmaceuticals to airplanes.

So Miller is taunting Obama and Romney to adopt an absurd position. The two of them are already way off base in their China rhetoric -- opposite sides of the same wooden nickel -- one distorting the truth about offshoring, the other distorting the truth about China's economic menace. Following Miller's ideas would kill jobs and make the U.S.-China commercial relationship worse.

The truth is that no matter how much China may allow its currency to appreciate, certain jobs just aren't coming back. The low-skill jobs, like stitching and sewing, for example, would sooner move to Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, and other low-wage countries than come back to America, regardless of currency exchange rates or tariffs.

Look at what happened when America placed tariffs on imports of low-end Chinese-made tires. There was no positive effect on American jobs or the American economy. The supply chains simply moved to other low-end tire producers in Asia and Mexico.

Which brings us to an important question. Beyond the political bumper sticker of "Creating Jobs," we have to ask what kind of jobs America should aim to create.

We need sustainable, well-paying jobs. Jobs that play on America's competitive advantages of high-value manufacturing and services. Yes, American Olympic uniforms may be made in China, but who cares? Many of the teams competing in London will be flying to the Olympic Games on American-made Boeing planes.

What we need from Obama and Romney is not more chest thumping on China. We need a forward-looking, globally competitive vision on how to create good jobs made for today's globally connected marketplace.

What we need from our national media outlets is reasonable and balanced discourse on a complicated topic that is all too often simplified and sometimes distorted to the point that it borders on hate mongering -- as when Miller perniciously compares presidential positions on China to gun control in the wake of Aurora.

America deserves better. America needs to be better. The world is becoming far more complex and far too competitive for us to hide behind these shibboleths.